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Macnaughton v. The Paul Revere Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 20, 2019

MARY MACNAUGHTON, M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
THE PAUL REVERE LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY & UNUM GROUP, Defendants.

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO TRANSFER VENUE (DOCKET NO. 14)

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN, DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Mary MacNaughton, M.D. (“Plaintiff”), sued The Paul Revere Life Insurance Company (“Paul Revere”) and Unum Group (“Unum”) (collectively “Defendants”) for long-term disability benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. ch. 18 § 1001 et seq. Defendants move to transfer the case to the District of Kansas. (Docket No. 14). For the following reasons, Defendants’ motion is denied.

         Background

         Plaintiff, a resident of Kansas, received long-term disability coverage through her employer, Alliance Radiology, P.A (“Alliance”). (Docket No. 1 at 2, 7). Paul Revere, an insurance company formed under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, issued the Alliance plan. (Docket No. 1 at 2, 7). Paul Revere is a subsidiary of Unum, an insurance holding company formed under the laws of the State of Delaware. (Docket No. 1 at 2–3).

         In August 2007, Plaintiff filed a claim for benefits related to ischemic optic neuropathy, [1]which caused her to experience “blurred, hazy vision, eye strain, eye twitching, headaches, and [double vision].” (Docket No. 1 at 7). Unum approved Plaintiff’s claim effective September 2, 2007. (Docket No. 1 at 9). It continued to pay benefits to Plaintiff through December 15, 2017, at which Unum sent Plaintiff a letter terminating her claim because she was allegedly “no longer physically impaired from working in her occupation.” (Docket No. 1 at 9).

         Plaintiff appealed the termination. (Docket No. 1 at 9). Unum upheld its termination in a letter dated September 20, 2018. (Docket No. 1 at 10). Plaintiff filed an ERISA action in this Court to recover her benefits, and Defendants now move to transfer venue to the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. (Docket No. 14).

         Legal Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), a district court may transfer a civil action to another district where it might have been brought “for the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice.” A defendant “bears the burden of showing both that an adequate alternative forum exists and that considerations of convenience and judicial efficiency strongly favor litigating the claim in the alternative forum.” See Iragorri v. Int’l Elevator, Inc., 203 F.3d 8, 12 (1st Cir. 2000). “[T]here is ordinarily a strong presumption in favor of the plaintiff’s choice of forum.” Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 255 (1981). This presumption may be overcome, however, when considerations of convenience and judicial efficiency “clearly point towards trial in the alternative forum.” Id.

         To determine whether “considerations of convenience and judicial efficiency” point towards trial in the alternative forum, courts weigh the private and public interests at stake. Factors in the private interest analysis include “the relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process for attendance of unwilling [witnesses], and the cost of obtaining attendance of willing[] witnesses; possibility of [a] view of premises, if [a] view would be appropriate to the action; and all other practical problems that make trial of a case easy, expeditious and inexpensive.” Gulf Oil Corp. v. Gilbert, 330 U.S. 501, 508 (1947). Factors in the public interest analysis include the “administrative difficulties of docket congestion; the general goal of ‘having localized controversies decided at home, ’ and concomitantly, ease of access to the proceedings on the part of interested citizens; the trier’s relative familiarity with the appropriate rules of decision; and the burdens of jury duty.” Iragorri, 203 F.3d at 12 (quoting Gilbert, 330 U.S. at 508–09).

         Discussion

         Plaintiff does not dispute that she could have brought this action in the District of Kansas. (Docket No. 20). And Defendants admit that the private interest factors are neutral in this case.[2](Docket No. 15 at 6). Thus, the parties’ disagreement centers on whether public interest factors point towards trial in the District of Kansas. See Iragorri, 203 F.3d at 12. Defendants offer four reasons that the public interest factors favor transfer. (Docket No. 15 at 6–13).

         First, Defendants contend that the District of Kansas is the only forum with a local interest in resolution of this case. (Docket No. 15 at 6). The Court agrees that the District of Kansas has a strong local interest in this case. Plaintiff and Alliance reside in Kansas, the alleged breach occurred in Kansas, [3] and Alliance has offered this plan to other employees in Kansas. But Defendants err in suggesting that Massachusetts does not also have an interest in this case. Paul Revere is a Massachusetts-based corporation (Docket No. 1 at 2), and states have an interest in ensuring that their corporations comply with governing law, cf. Ovist v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of Am., No. 4:17-CV-40113-TSH, 2018 WL 3853739, at *6 (D. Mass. May 2, 2018). Because Kansas and Massachusetts both have a local interest in the resolution of this case, the Court finds this factor neutral.

         Second, Defendants contend that the docket at the District of Massachusetts is more congested than the docket at the District of Kansas. (Docket No. 15 at 7). The difference in caseload, however, is only 20 cases, and the difference in average time for disposition is roughly three months. (Docket Nos. 15 at 7, 15-1 at 2–3). Under these circumstances, the Court declines to find that docket congestion weighs in favor of transfer.

         Third, Defendants maintain that this case has no relation to Massachusetts. (Docket No. 15 at 10–11). The Court disagrees. Paul Revere is a Massachusetts-based corporation, and at least one medical review occurred in Massachusetts. (Docket Nos. 1 at 2, 16-1 at 2, 21 at 2). Plaintiff, moreover, has alleged additional facts which, if taken as true, would further relate this claim to Massachusetts.[4] For example, she asserts that (1) some claim handling took place in Massachusetts, (2) Unum’s doctor issued a report from Massachusetts, and (3) the appeal information and claim file were ...


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